Every year on Easter Sunday our family tradition was to dress up and head to morning Mass, followed by a family photo on the front lawn.
[You can tell I’m a Woman of a Certain Age because Mom and I also wore white gloves and hats.]
Mom and Dad gave me lots of candy in pretty Easter baskets, and Mom and I always dyed hard-boiled eggs different colors prior to the Easter Sunday feast. My grandparents usually joined us for a big ham dinner, and sometimes my cousins came by, but in our family it was a much lower-key holiday than Christmas or Thanksgiving.
Still, its religious significance was foremost in our minds. Easter is the Resurrection of Jesus and a joyous celebration – as well as the unofficial beginning of spring.
For many of us, Easter’s increasing secularization – with Easter egg hunts, visits from the Easter Bunny, and elaborate Easter crafts – has watered down its place as the most important date in the Christian calendar.
As Peter Steinfels writes in “Sacred and Secular in Easter Celebrations,” published in the New York Times, “Easter is the misfit among American holidays. The country, it seems, is too religious and too Christian to ignore Easter, but also too pluralist and too secular to absorb it comfortably as a national holiday.”
In addition to its increasing commercialization, Easter also suffers as a holiday because its date shifts annually anywhere from March 22 to April 25, schools are less likely to schedule coincidental breaks, and businesses and government aren’t compelled to schedule days off, Steinfels notes.
The true Easter season begins after Easter Sunday and lasts for seven weeks, ending with Pentecost. All of the dates and celebrations of the liturgical year are arranged around the central feast of Easter. The Catholic Church always marks Easter on the first Sunday that follows the first full moon of the Spring Equinox.
Our family always planned a rather elaborate Easter egg hunt for our three kids. That kicked off Easter Sunday, followed by morning Mass and a big midday feast of either brunch or dinner. Often, Easter feasts include ham, lamb, cakes, breads, eggs – all symbolizing the Resurrection – and families offer sweets and candy in celebration of the end of fasting. In fact, many Easter recipes use extra eggs, meat, or rich food forbidden during our Lenten fasts, according to CatholicFaithStore.com.
To be sure, for Catholics the true meaning of Easter as the “feast of feasts” has deep significance for our lives as Catholics, regardless of commercialization. Many of us make sure that bedtime stories during Lent foretell the glory of Jesus’s Resurrection.
Writes Nicholas LaBanca in “Christ is Risen,” published in Ascension Press, “With death now completely trampled and conquered, Jesus gives us a glimpse into how our own lives will be one day, so long as we love him by keeping his commandments.”
He urges us to acknowledge the significance of the entire 40 days of Easter. “One day, God-willing, we will become like Christ, and this is only a possibility because of the triumphant Resurrection,” LaBanca says. “By that same Resurrection, Christ set us free from sin, and this notion is something that we must keep at the forefront of our minds every day.”